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Nikos Varelas

Biographical Summary

Nikos Varelas is Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs and Academic Programs (VPUAAP) and Liberal Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of Illinois Chicago.

As vice provost since August 2016, Dr. Varelas leads the student success efforts through a variety of initiatives, research, and project management. The VPUAAP office is home to units engaged in evidence-based practices that enhance the student experience and improve educational equity, access, and quality: Academic Center for Excellence, African American Academic Network, Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services Program, Latin@s Gaining Access to Networks for Advancement in Science Program, Native American Support ProgramCHANCE Program, Office of High School Development, Office for Advising Development, Office of Project Management for Student Success Initiatives, Office for Research on Student Success, Office of Undergraduate Research, Office of External Fellowships, and Army ROTC. Dr. Varelas also oversees and supports campus units with the creation, revision, and assessment of academic programs and general education courses.

Guided by data and national best practices, Dr. Varelas has initiated and advanced a variety of innovative programs that have contributed to significant improvements in student achievement and success, including a 33% increase in the 4-year graduation rate (57% increase in 4-year graduation rates for Latinx and for Black students) from 2015 to 2021. Such projects have included: high school transition coaching; tuition-free summer bridge programs; first-year experience reforms; holistic student support and success coaching; reducing barriers to degree completion; development of custom-made predictive analytics models to identify students who may encounter challenges toward graduation and to develop strategies to support them; academic advising reforms through the implementation of an integrated planning and advising system to facilitate communication, early alerts, and referrals; funded opportunities for students to conduct undergraduate research; a campus-wide student success innovation fund; and student emergency and degree completion funding. Several of these projects have attracted external funding from the U.S. Department of Education and foundations.

Prior to his current role, Dr. Varelas was Associate Dean for Student Academic Affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. There he championed innovative policy changes, programs, and initiatives. These include the creation of one Bachelor’s and one Master’s program, four new minors and one concentration, and the revision of over a dozen degree programs. Among these new programs is the B.S. in Integrated Health Studies, a model of interdisciplinary, intercollegiate education. In collaboration with academic departments and colleges, Dr. Varelas introduced reforms that have led to significant improvements in student performance and success. One such reform was in calculus courses taken by more than 4,000 students across the campus. He also facilitated the growth and impact of the campus Learning Centers that support thousands of students every semester.

Dr. Varelas’ research is in the field of high-energy particle physics exploring the fundamental constituents of the universe and their interactions.  He was a member of the team of scientists who discovered the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland.

Dr. Varelas has held several leadership positions in his field, including co-spokesperson of the Coordinated Theoretical-Experimental Project on QCD Collaboration, member of the Executive Committee of the American Physical Society’s Division of Particles and Fields, Chair of the Fermilab Users Executive Committee, and Senior Fellow of the LHC Physics Center at Fermilab.

He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a University of Illinois Scholar. His publication record exceeds 1,500 peer-reviewed journal articles and he has received more than $10 million in research funding. Dr. Varelas earned his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Rochester and his B.S. in Physics from the University of Athens, Greece.